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The ramp up to the DI National Quarterfinals wasn’t kind to the two teams from the Atlantic North on Saturday. The #1 seeded NYAC lost 42-19 to Old Blue while the defending DI National Champion, Mystic River, was beaten by the visiting Glendale Raptors, 22-16. Although both squads lost, valuable lessons were learned and wake-up calls were received.
For NYAC, the final result and who scored didn’t matter in the end. With a national championship firmly in their minds, the only thought is getting better to defeat Mystic in Pittsburgh on May 20th.
“Old Blue beat us soundly,” NYAC head coach Mike Quinn said. “Mystic is a better side than Old Blue and we are playing Mystic in the quarterfinals. It’s given us a very good wake up call that we have to be better than what we are.”
“[Old Blue] just wanted it more,” Quinn added. “If we don’t bring that desire to beat Mystic, we are going to be in big trouble. We have to be better on every facet of our game. We have to be sharper, more clued in, harder, more physical, faster, the whole thing. It has given a very big and severe wake-up call. Old Blue was decidedly better than us, it was men against boys.”
For Mystic, the Glendale Raptors brought their bruising, confident brand of rugby to Malden, Mass and won 22-16 on a rainy pitch. Tries by Maximo de Achaval, Ben Landry, and John Ryberg in the first half set the tone for Glendale, but Mystic fought back with a Vini Daley try and two Spike Armstrong penalties.
A third penalty by Armstrong put Mystic ahead in the second half to lead 16-15. However, a yellow card proved to be Mystic’s downfall as the Raptors marched downfield and John Quill scored off a five-meter scrum. Both defenses refused to break for the remainder of the game and Glendale won 22-16.
The loss was a win for Mystic because it kept arguably the best club team in the country to 22 points when Glendale averages 50 points a game. In addition, Mystic was only a converted try away from winning the game.
“Defensively, we were happy with where we were at,” Mystic head coach Josh Smith stated. “It was a good high-level type of match. That’s what we are going to see in Pittsburgh whether we play NYAC, Gorge, or the Chicago Lions. Any one of those teams, it’s going to be nip and tuck. It was good to get another match like that under our belts and have our guys respond better.”
“On Saturday, we looked a lot like the team from last spring than we have all year,” Smith said on his team’s improved performance from its earlier losses to Old Blue and NYC. “Pieces are slowing coming together. We had a tough run getting out the winter into the spring. We are peaking late.”
Peaking at the right time is best for Mystic as it will face NYAC in the National Quarterfinals in Pittsburgh in two weeks. Mystic has struggled in its three meetings against NYAC this season losing a combined 103-46. In the most recent encounter in Malden on April 22nd, Mystic was within striking distance of the lead until the final minute when a try at the whistle proved to be the last nail for a 20-7 NYAC victory.
In spite of the winning results against Mystic this season, NYAC coach Quinn believes Mystic is the team to beat in this year’s national tournament. “Mystic is right now the best team in the country. They are the National Champions and until somebody beats them, they are the best team in the country. If you want to become the National Champions, you’re going to have to beat Mystic.”
An appeal was sent to USA Rugby to avoid a first round match between the two clubs, but it seems that it has been denied. “It’s unfortunate for us that [our match is] going to be in the quarterfinals. There is no way you are going to get through a NYAC versus Mystic game without lads being hurt because it's such a physical contest... Mystic is a properly good side and we’re a decent side and we’re going to beat the crap out of each other.”
The survivors of the brutal clash between the two Atlantic North heavyweights will play the winners of the Rocky Gorge versus the Chicago Lions match on Sunday. Whatever happens, Nationals weekend in Pittsburgh has some great rugby to look forward to.